A Party Left Undone (tf)

How many times do we see out-of-town family at funerals? Invariably, amidst the gentle smiles and hushed laughter of remembrance somebody will say, “I wish we could meet under better circumstances.” And everybody nods. It’s true. We all do wish we could meet under better circumstances. But we never do. As John Lennon said, “life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans”. These days maybe we exchange emails or befriend each other on Facebook…..and that’s that until somebody else dies.

Sometimes family comes to us. And sometimes we load the car and go to them. For we’re pretty much scattered far and wide by now. It all depends on the location of the deceased and where his final resting place will be. Sometimes he or she will die in one city and wish to be buried amongst loved ones in another. You must be ready to improvise.

My father and mother both came from large families, with siblings very close in age. So we grew up with packs of cousins. We visited each other on the weekends and searched for mischief while the grown-ups discussed whatever it was that grown-ups discussed in those days. My first beer was slipped to me by a cousin. He was the kind of guy you’d expect to slip you your first beer. If I remember correctly he slipped me my second and third too. He’s dead now. Went to his funeral about 10 years ago. I hadn’t seen him in maybe 20 years. He moved out west. Had some troubles. Some rifts developed in his family. I think he may have married a protestant on his second go-around and scandalized the forever faithful. He had a few kids. When they came to the funeral nobody knew who they were.

Inevitably an old aunt who was miserable for about 80 of her years will pass on, and everybody stands around trying to think of nice things to say. “Well, she kept a clean house” or “She may have made us cry when we got mud on her floor but she sure made good cookies…eh?” Funerals are still sad even if the person of honor wasn’t very likable. There’s something about standing 2 feet in front of a dead person all stretched out and white as a sheet that makes you think that whatever it is you’ve been planning you should get to.

A lot of times we say things we don’t mean just to be nice. “Oh, keep in touch” to a person we’d rather run over with a car. That sort of thing. But at a funeral being cut-off from others doesn’t seem like such a good idea anymore. In the end, aside from a few friends if you’re lucky, family is pretty much all you got. When you die, these are the people who are gonna be staring at your pale face and lowering you into the ground. It can’t hurt to stay in touch.

But we usually don’t. And we probably won’t. Things move so fast, and we don’t even need to invent valid reasons why we just never get around to making the effort.

And that’s…well….sad. Don’t you think?

–Tom Flannery

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~ by admin on April 5, 2011.

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